Saturday, October 8, 2011
The Burdens Most Americans Ignore
“I fear they do not know us,” Adm. Mullen said of the nation’s civilians. “I fear they do not comprehend the full weight of the burden we carry or the price we pay when we return from battle.”
Call me antiquated but I grew up actively listening to first-hand accounts of the World War Two era from people who lived through the events leading up to the attack on Pearl Harbor, during the war, and as the dust settled with the defeat of Germany and Japan. I would be echoing very tired clichés saying that it was a horrific yet incredible time that saw both the absolute worst of the human species and our best as we sacrificed much to defeat fascism. The problems with clichés is that they are essentially true, while people all over the world gave everything to make the world a better, safer place it is the stories of those here in the United States that I know best.
Looking from our vantage point back to that ear it is very hard to fathom the collective state of mind of Americans before the attack on Pearl Harbor. The horrors of the First World War were still very much alive back then and with the nation still overwhelmed with surviving the Great Depression very few people wanted to get involved with another European war. I guess the world was viewed as a much bigger place with two massive oceans safely separating the North American continent from the bloody carnage going on over there.
All that changed the day after December 7th, 1941 with the news of the Japanese attacks on the Hawaiian Island, men who a few days before wanted nothing to do with war found themselves standing in lines for hours in an effort to sign up and defend their country. My own grandfather attempted to enlist twice but was declare “4F” both times because he was completely deaf in one ear after suffering through a severe case of the mumps as a child.
During those uncertain years, Americans pulled together in ways that even now have become legendary. Everyone sacrificed whether it was the men who fought overseas or those who stayed home working in the factories, organizing scrap metal collections, buying war bonds, or just dealing with the hardships of rationing and shortages. It was truly a unique, unselfish age in American history where everyone shared in the adversity the situation demanded.
Wow, things have really freaking changed since then! Where once we had a unified response earning the people who lived through those years the nickname the “Greatest Generation”, we now have a hollow, self-absorbed nation full of squabbling idiots. Even after attacks arguably worse than Pearl Harbor with only a few exception the vast majority of “patriotic” Americans have decided to sit out this war and just cheer from the sidelines.
Poor Winston will have to excuse me but never in the American history have so few suffered the mental and physical injuries for so many who while being all for fighting the latest evil horde out to destroy the republic and defile our woman just never found the local recruiting office themselves.
Now you would never really know there was such a huge military-civilian gap if all you looked at were the magnetic yellow ribbons adoring the bumpers of American SUV’s. An entire damn industry has arose so civilians can buy placate that almost non-existent conscious nagging them when they just happen to be caught in traffic as a military funeral procession slowly drives by.
Living here in the South, which prides itself on having true blue patriotism encoded in its very DNA you would figure we would be bending over backwards to support the members of the Armed Forces and their families. Now since all things are relative yeah, I would have to say that on average goodwill and pride towards the troops is overabundant but it pretty much stops there.
Case in point was at my last job where two times a month I had to work Saturday and Sunday, which often conflicted with my weekend National Guard duties. This was a manufacturing plant and my associates loved mouthing off about the evil bad guys and how super-duper great our glorious troops were at blowing them up. Their support of the troops last only as long as they did not have to cover my weekend shift. See my service to the country at a time of war disturbed their hunting and fishing time and they resented the Hell out of it.
Being an astute observer of the ever worsening American condition I have come to accept this “Patriotism Light” as just another symptom of madness marking the decline of the United States as a great power. American patriotism has become a form of Japanese Kabuki dance where style and appearances triumph actual form and function. The country can go to war and as long as the majority does not have to send off their kids or pay higher taxes, they will gladly wave their tiny, Chinese made, American flags during parades and shed tears at the singing of the national anthem but do not ask any more of them.
The following is a NPR report from today on this very subject:
Veterans, Civilians Don't See Eye To Eye On War
Veterans and the general public have different views on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the value of military service and even the subject of patriotism, according to a new survey by the Pew Research Center.
The United States has never seen a moment like this one, with sustained combat for a decade, and a small fraction of American men and women in uniform, the Pew Center says.
"At any given time in the past decade, only about one half of 1 percent of the public has been on active duty in the military," says Paul Taylor, who edited the Pew study. He contrasts that number to another generation. "At the height of World War II, nearly 9 percent were on active duty."
Pew interviewed 4,000 veterans and civilians and found that the civilians largely agree that soldiers and their families are bearing much of the sacrifice of the two wars. So Taylor says Pew asked whether it's fair that the military is making the sacrifices when the public is not — or whether it's just part of being in the military.
"The public says, 'You know what? It's just part of being in the military,'" Taylor says.
He says that answer gets at the title of the study: The Military-Civilian Gap. That gap even extends to whether you'll recommend that a young person serve in uniform. Eight in 10 veterans say they would suggest a military career; just half of the civilians would.
Mac Owens, a professor at the Naval War College and a Marine platoon leader during the Vietnam War, says that amounts to what's been called "patriotism light" – the idea, he says, "that it's real easy for folks to praise the troops and thank them for their service, but turn around and say, 'But my kid's not going in the military.'"
Those ritual forms of patriotism — bumper stickers and yellow ribbons and greeting troops at airports — don't require sacrifice. Contrast that with World War II when all civilians sacrificed, at least through rationing. What's different today is the only civilians affected are the spouses and family members of those who serve. And more and more, the military is becoming something of a family business, says Owens and other experts. Many officers say fathers or uncles have served before them.
A Sacrifice Others Aren't Making
But putting on that uniform and serving during the past decade has taken its toll.
More than one-third of those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan say they've suffered from post-traumatic stress, whether or not they were diagnosed. That's why, the study says, nearly half of those coming home from those wars say it's been hard adjusting to civilian life.
"There's a very heavy psychological and emotional component here," Taylor says. "They've had strains in their family life, frequent outbursts of irritability."
Among those veterans polled, grueling and repeated deployments reflect a love of country. Two-thirds see themselves as more patriotic than other Americans. That doesn't surprise Owens.
"The military guy is saying, 'Well, I put on the uniform and I subject myself and my family to all these sorts of things, so yeah, I guess I am,'" he says.
The vast majority of those civilians polled acknowledge that the troops are bearing a large burden. As for sacrifice by the rest of the nation? Fewer than half think the American people have had to do much.